We are happy to welcome Tanja Ahlin and her really interesting blog "Lessons from the field: the importance of being kind". If you are interested in writing a piece for our series 'Fieldnotes and Thoughts', click here!
Lessons from the field: the importance of being kind
by Tanja Ahlin
Doctoral candidate at UvA & ITM/University of Barcelona
Several months ago I attended a lecture given by a respected senior anthropologist, who was lecturing a class of Master students on the (non)ethical practices in anthropological research. Among his many thought-provoking stories from the field, one particularly resonated with me. The lecturer told of a time when he was trying to find a way to interview a person who had been difficult to reach. After several failed attempts, our lecturer – then a young fieldworker – heard that his potential informant was coming into town in order to attend a funeral of a beloved family member. Upon his arrival, the lecturer approached the grieving man and asked for a meeting. The man refused repeatedly, but our lecturer was persistent. He realized that the time was perhaps not the most appropriate, but he felt strongly that this particular man would provide a valuable piece of information to the mosaic of his ethnographic story. “I was lucky,” concluded our lecturer proudly, “the man was kind to me and he finally consented.”
As an ethnographer, what would you do in such a situation?
I know what I did. During my second fieldwork period in India in 2015, I found myself in a similar circumstance. An informant of mine had just travelled for about twenty-four hours from her home in USA to visit her parents in India. Previously I had only spoken to her on the phone, but I had met and interviewed her parents in person. She came to India because her father was burdened with a serious health condition and I knew the times were rough for the family. At the same time, this lady was one of my most interesting informants and it would be highly valuable for me to see her. So when I learnt of her arrival, I called her and asked for a meeting, but also let her know that the final decision was hers. A few days later I called her again to ask how she had decided. She did not pick up at my first try and I decided to let it go.